What has been your worst faux pas while in a foreign country?
I would have to revisit my travel history to answer that question. Nonetheless, I can remember a recent moment when I felt a hole in my stomach and got my ears burning like a flame.
While visiting the Santo Domingo Cultural Center in Oaxaca, we ended at an inner patio while looking for the restrooms. Since this place is huge, we found difficult to retrace our steps to the entry point. We knew the main museum was upstairs but we wondered if there were some exhibitions on the bottom floor.
As a matter of fact, there was a small room showcasing furniture from the 18th century. After inspecting the neatly graved sofas and tables, a dark, small tunnel got our attention. Light was coming from a room at the end of it.
We entered the room, and to our surprise, it was packed full of people in business attire. I was able to see a garden thru the door opposite to the wall from where we were taking a peek. I asked a guy if we were allowed to pass to the garden. He replied, “Sure, go ahead.” We cut the multitude with a smile while they were applauding the presenter.
The garden was located behind the Santo Domingo complex. It had all the elements that elevate a patch of land to another dimension. Tall trees provided shade. A wide array of cactuses, from slender to plump, begged to be photographed. The whimsical sound of water was present in artistically designed fountains. A touch of exoticness was present with plants such as the elephant foot. All this was backed up by the greenish walls and red domes of the ex-convent.
Out of the blue, a lady interrupted my photo frenzy.
“Access to this area is restricted,”
“Uh, ok,” I replied. I thought she was talking about the hall we were walking by since I saw yellow cords lining what looked like a construction area.
We simply moved to another area of the garden and continued looking around. That is when a security guard approached us.
I got petrified when he said, “You are not supposed to be here. How did you enter? The gate is closed. ”
“The people in that room gave us permission,” I said while pointing to the opened door. At this moment, an empty stomach feeling started to make an appearance.
“I don’t know who those people are but to access this area you have to pay a separate admission and tour with a guide.”
We thanked the guard for the information and almost ran to the open door. We had to walk in front of all the people meeting in the room … again.
Turns out we trespassed into the Ethnobotanical Garden. The garden is a microcosm of Oaxaca’s rich biodiversity. Its goal is to preserve Oaxaca’s endemic flora, and to allow visitors to appreciate the state’s botanical diversity, as well as to gain understanding about human interaction with plants throughout history. This is the first modern, public botanical garden in the state, and the emphasis on the natural history of the local plants and their cultural importance makes this a fascinating visit even if you’re not interested in botany. The garden can only be visited as part of a guided tour.
Believe me, I felt very ashamed after the entire situation. I certainly do not want to have “trespassing” stories in my travel records. Well, I guess it is something that can happen to anybody. Am I right?
My husband and I ended up laughing because the entire garden was visible from the second floor of the complex (the actual area we paid to see). Therefore, it was not necessary to “trespass” to enjoy the beautiful place.
Have you experienced a similar situation? I would love to hear your stories.